How to Conduct Virtual Layoffs—Compassionately

A man working from home conducts virtual layoffs compassionately

Posted on

April 13, 2020


Getting laid off is never easy, but the coronavirus crisis has made the experience even more harrowing for many workers today. You may have already heard about organizations laying off employees en-masse via gigantic Zoom meetings or emails. When these terrible tales started making the news, I was truly shocked.

HR—we can do better. It’s true that the pandemic has transformed workplace norms seemingly overnight. But that doesn’t mean our compassion and respect for people can go out the window. Companies still need to be very mindful that when the economy starts to normalize, these employees are going to remember how they were treated. 

Layoff meetings may need to be held virtually for the time being—but they can still be designed to help retain affected employee’s dignity and to support them as they make their next step. Here are my top five suggestions for compassionate offboarding in the socially-distanced age.

Schedule individual termination meetings. Mass layoffs doesn’t mean herd them out like cattle. Whenever possible, hold one-on-one meetings to show respect for the employee. If you’re laying off a sizable portion of your staff, train managers and additional HR personnel so multiple meetings can be held simultaneously. If your organization is big enough to do a mass layoff, your organization is big enough to assign several HR people to the task of doing one-on-one layoffs.

Be mindful online meetings can be recorded. What you say and how you say it are really important, so you don’t inadvertently open yourself up to litigation when you’re doing a termination or layoff. I recommend using a script to ensure you cover all the important details and to keep the meeting on track. 

Give attention, time, and space, to the employee. Create a personal and distraction-free space for the virtual meeting. This means turning on your videos so you can see each others’ expressions, but turning off everything else — phone alerts, Slack pings, event notices. Go into a space where you won’t be disrupted by other people or pets that share your home. Pay especially close attention to the employee, and give them the opportunity to ask questions.

Provide clear information on how to apply for unemployment benefits online. One of the biggest questions people ask is about how to file for unemployment. Many don’t know that they can do it online, or they don’t know that they have to do it online because unemployment offices aren’t open right now. Any time that an HR manager takes that extra step to explain to the person how they go online and apply for unemployment benefits in their state, I think that takes the compassion just one step further.

Offer virtual, longer-term outplacement services. Providing impacted employees with outplacement—career transition support to assist them with finding new work faster—is simply the right thing to do in these difficult times. Outplacement also helps protect your organization’s employer brand by creating goodwill with departing employees. Make sure the program you choose is available virtually, offering convenient career coaching by video, audio, and text. The services also need to be more long term in this market. A 30-day program, or a program that limits you to 30 minutes or an hour of coaching, won’t do much for the employee. 

If layoffs are inevitable, callousness doesn’t have to be. In these challenging times, let’s not forget the opportunity we have in HR today: to show true concern and care for people as we all do our best to cope with an unprecedented crisis.

For more on this topic, see Furloughs & Virtual Layoffs: Best Practices During the Coronavirus Crisis.

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